Maritime Liverpool: Knowledge and Power


The Olympic (From Steam-ships and their Story by R.A.Fletcher, 1910)

Saturday 6th September, 2-4pm at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock

Book here

Liverpool’s position at the forefront of ocean steam navigation throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras built the city into a cultural capital of fine art and architecture with endowed school and university facilities dedicated to the pursuit, especially through science, of knowledge and power. Explore the causes and effects of Liverpool’s glorious history.

  • Mr Michael Stammers (Merseyside Museum, Liverpool): ‘John Grantham, pioneer naval architect of Liverpool’

Early 19th century Liverpool has often been characterised as a commercial centre with little interest in manufacturing. John Grantham’s career and those of other Liverpool engineers of the same era show that whatever its manufacturing limitations, Liverpool was a centre for developing the new iron and steam technology. Grantham was also a pioneer of a new profession – the consulting naval architect.

  • Dr Graeme Milne (School of History, University of Liverpool): ‘Liverpool and globalisation, 1850-1914: Communications, information and knowledge in mercantile business’

Discover how Liverpool was an important hub in the nineteenth-century knowledge economy. New communications technologies (steamships, railways, telegraphs and telephones) transformed the information available to the city’s business communities, while presenting great challenges in processing that information into useful knowledge. Traders remained reliant on local, personal contacts for monitoring reputation, trustworthiness and reliability in a globalising business environment.

  • Professor Crosbie Smith (School of History, University of Kent): ‘”We never make mistakes”: the Empire of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company’
This talk aims to explore the making of this mighty Victorian empire of steam with special emphasis on the variety of people who designed, built, engined, navigated and managed the ships of PSNC. Launched in the early 1840s as one of Britain’s first mail steamship companies, PSNC laboured long and hard to build its own fragile empire along the western seaboard of South America.
In the mid-1850s it adopted a new – and fraught – type of steam engine, the marine compound engine, which maritime historians have long credited with making possible long-distance ocean steam navigation and which historians of technology have linked to the nineteenth-century science of thermodynamics.
Down-river from Liverpool’s Pier Head, and well away from the centre of the European Capital of Culture, lies Canada Dock. There at Branch No.2, on the red-brick gable end of a former transit shed, are emblazoned the letters “PSNC” in the form of a proud ship-owner’s houseflag. It is one of the last reminders of one of the world’s most famous shipping lines: the Pacific Steam Navigation Company of Liverpool.
By the early 1870s, PSNC’s empire boasted the largest and longest steamship line in the world, with a regular service between Liverpool and Valparaiso by way of the Straits of Magellan and a Pacific service linking almost every port between Chile and Panama. But even faster than most empires, the Line over-reached itself and became, for other more cautious Liverpool ship-owners, a lesson of “an extravagant fleet, extravagantly managed.”

Books of interest

Michael Stammers, The Industrial Archaeology of Docks and Habours (2008) and Sailing Barges of the British Isles (2008).

Graeme J. Milne, North East England, 1850-1914: The dynamics of a maritime-industrial region (2006) and Trade and traders in mid-Victorian Liverpool: Mercantile business and the making of a world port (2000).

Crosbie Smith and Ben Marsden, Engineering Empires. A Cultural History of Technology in Nineteenth Century Britain (2004).
Crosbie Smith and Norton Wise, Energy and Empire. A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (1989).
Crosbie Smith, The Science of Energy. A Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain (1998).

John Belchem, Liverpool 800 (2006) – includes Maritime chapter by Crosbie Smith.


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